Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Theme: “Jesus said, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday July 21 2019
On a steamy summer morning, I overheard a harried nurse at the hospital string together just the right words to express a sentiment that has, on occasion, been mine. Dashing from cubicle to cubicle in the Emergency Department in response to the demands of patients and their families, she stopped mid-dash to wipe her moist brow and exclaim with some gusto, “You know, there are days when eternal rest sounds just wonderful!” Then off she went, it clear that today was just such a day.
Several evenings later, reviewing my own day, far less harried than hers but challenging with its own demands, I chuckled as I remembered seeing a T-shirt on which was emblazoned a spiritual commentary addressed to all those who feel overworked and stressed-out. Below the comic caricature of a face with bulging eyeballs, hair in frantic disarray and mouth stretched open in a scream were the words, “When you get to your wit’s end, you’ll find God lives there.” It’s such a divine encounter we hear of in today’s gospel passage.
It’s a scene familiar in many households: a guest is coming, the house is a mess, and while one family member sees no problem at all, another is just frantic at the looks of the place. It reminds me of a deathbed dialogue from years past. A Martha-like wife (i.e., a compulsive housekeeper) has just died after a lengthy bout of illness. Standing at her hospital bedside, her grieving husband tells me of their last at-home conversation before coming to the hospital. “She kept the entire house neat and clean, even when she was so sick. Except for the bedroom, that is. It had become a storeroom for everything that had no other place to go. Our bedroom was a complete mess. Anyway, just before she had to return to the hospital, she was lying in bed and, calling me close so I would hear her clearly, she gave me her last instructions: ‘Honey, if I should die here in the bedroom, promise me you’ll drag my body out into the hallway before you make any phone calls. I don’t want anyone to see this mess.’”
It’s Jesus, Martha and Mary who converge in today’s gospel passage. Martha has been frantically cleaning the house, preparing a festive meal and nagging her sister to give a hand with some of the work. In the midst of this sisterly tension, the doorbell rings: Jesus has arrived. While Mary, just plain lazy by her sister’s standards, welcomes Jesus with warm attention, Martha’s pulse quickens as sweat drops from her brow. The roast is burning in the oven, the living room hasn’t been vacuumed yet, and now the dog is howling that he, too, wants to be fed. It’s just all too much for harried Martha. Red-faced in exhaustion and anger, she storms in upon her lazy sister and their guest demanding that Mary give her a hand. And what happens? A comment from their guest only seems to intensify the tension between the sisters: “Jesus said, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’” (Luke 10:41-42)
Actually, I think both Martha and Mary are portrayed as exhibiting extreme behaviors in today’s gospel passage for the sake of the message Jesus offers. I don’t imagine Martha was a complete teeth-grinding compulsive; neither, I’m sure, is Mary an indolent slouch. Rather, they are cast as extremes that we might find ourselves somewhere along the continuum between the two. Do I tend to be compulsive? Then, Jesus advises, relax a bit; don’t worry about the messy house, the dirty dishes in the sink. Life is short and uncertain, so have a little fun. Or perhaps I am a sluggard to whom Jesus offers no particular advice, just the hope that my soul is being magnified more than my waistline.
I can still see that T-shirt: “When you get to your wit’s end, you’ll find God lives there.”